Western Colorado has a hidden gem of a wine country, and unlike some wine tasting areas, the vineyards in Palisade are so close, you can bike the entire wine tasting trip. Rental bikes are available in town, including electric bikes. The mix of wineries and offerings are as varied as the Colorado landscape. Palisade is well-known for its famous, sweet peaches, but the mix of farm stands, vineyards, craft brews and hand-crafted distilled spirits mix with great food for a delightful visit.
If you sent the kids off to one of the Dinosaur Journey Museum all-day adventures, they just don’t need you hanging around Grand Junction while they’re having fun with dinosaur bones. With free time at hand, take the 25 minute drive east from Grand Junction and head for the Palisade Fruit and Wine Byway.
Grown up time, indeed
There’s definitely a need for grown-up time when in Western Colorado. Make a day of it and rent bikes for a wine tasting tour that lets calories burn while the tasting progresses.
The Grand Junction area’s wine country is 15 miles east on I-70 east into Palisade. The adorably well-trimmed town is a time travel into agricultural areas preserved from another era. Palisade, long-known for its sweet peaches, has been turning into agritourism center with vineyards, distilleries, brewers, orchards and recreation opportunities.
We rolled into the quaint low-slung downtown of mid-century brick stores and stopped at Rapid Creek Cycles. Rondo, a refugee from the Midwest, outfitted us on a pair of 27-speed matching Raleigh road bikes, after he initially suggested a pair of hybrid mountain bikes or beach cruisers. Those traditional bikes are the only offering in Palisades.
Touring wine country by bike
“I’m getting a lot of people who like the idea of cycling to wineries, but the idea of biking about 25 miles to see them all is daunting,” he said. “We now have electric bikes to give the cycling experience without the stamina.”
Rondo also handles rafting adventures, stand up paddleboards and helping visitors plan the route for the best mix of wineries and farm stands along the route. Thinking back, I wish I had a basked on the bike, it would have been far more convenient than the daypack we were stuffing with wine bottles.
We hit the Colorado River Trail knowing we were being watched by the brewing thunderstorm over the mesa. The upper Colorado east of Grand Junction is a different river than the one through the Grand Canyon in Arizona. One thing we didn’t and you should, get a bike basket for purchases.
The day we made the rounds, rain was in the wind, and while readying our gear and sheltering the bikes, we walked up to the deck to the tasting room at Red Fox Cellars. While we could see lightning tickling the sky in one direction, the sun painted the golden cliffs of Mount Garfield rising from the back of the vineyards to the north.
Wineries on the go
Red Fox was to be the first stop on the roughly 12-mile weather-threatened ride along the byway. The tasting room was serving a couple of full-bodied red wines. A couple of bottles went into our backpacks to resettle back in Phoenix.
Several small groups and couples were wandering in. We decided to race the storm to the next winery on the list, Maison La Belle Vie Winery, a little touch of French countryside in a low-slung French farm house style and event and wedding venue. So far we were winning the race, and enjoyed the sweet Muscat they offered.
The roads are not heavily traveled, except for U.S. 6—Front Street, the main drag in Palisade. Even so the bike ride never felt crowded by traffic. Most of the wineries are located in a cluster that makes for a easy, level loop, depending on the number of tasting rooms to be visited. Palisade has a map offering routes of five, seven and 25 miles.
The various routes take cyclists down rural roads, past farms, orchards and vineyards. There are more than a dozen wineries, a few more fruit orchards and specialty farms, plus a couple of alpaca ranches. There are beds and breakfasts and motels.
Another place of interest we found is Meadery of the Rockies. Mead, a historic and Middle English wine is made with honey, water and fruits. Although not a fan of sweet reds, the unique blends and flavors resulted in another couple of bottles added to the backpacks.
Hand-crafted spirits to sample
The last stop of the day was Peach Street Distillers. We sampled its hand-crafted Colorado Straight Bourbon – smooth as silk – and d’Agave, distilled from blue agave, but cannot be called Tequila, because that drink can only be distilled in Mexico.
We spent half the day on our bike tour-wine tastings, which was not enough to visit all of the wineries in the area. That’s the downside of a long road trip, where every other day has its own hefty drive. Doing it again, Palisade is a definite day trip, with a break for lunch or a charcuterie at one of the several wineries serving food or the restaurants downtown, would be an extraordinary excursion. The town does have motels and inns.
Palisade is located off I-70 about 15 miles east of Grand Junction in western Colorado. The community has a detailed downloadable map on its website showing locations of wineries, farms, lodging, dining and retail.